Essential Oils

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Basil French - Ocimum basilicum

Family Lamiaceae (Labiiatae)

Synonyms Common basil, joy-of-the-mountain, 'true' sweet basil, European basil.

General description A tender annual herb, with very dark green, ovate leaves, greyish-green beneath, an erect square stem up to 60cms high, bearing whorls of two-lipped greenish or pinky-white flowers. The whole plant has a  powerful aromatic scent.

Distribution Native to tropical Asia and Africa, it is now widely cultivated throughout Europe, the Mediterranean region, the Pacific Islands, North and South America. The European, French or 'true' sweet basil oil is produced in France, Italy. Egypt, Bulgaria, Hungary and the USA.

Other Species There are many varieties of basil occurring all over the world, used both for their culinary and medicinal applications, such as bush basil (o.minimum0, holy basil ( o. kilimanjaricum) from east Africa( also grows in India), and the fever plant (o. viride) from West Africa.

However, there a two principal chemotypes most commonly used for the extraction of essential oil: the so-called 'French basil' and the 'exotic basil'.

Herbal / Folk Tradition Widely used in far Eastern medicine especially in the Ayurvedic tradition, where it is called tulsi. It is used for respiratory problems such as bronchitis, coughs, colds, asthma, 'flu and emphysema but is also used as an antidote to poisonous insect or snake bites. It has also been used against epidemics and fever, such as malaria. It improves blood circulation and the digestive system and in China it is used for stomach and

kidney ailments
In the West it is considered as a 'cooling' herb, and is used for rheumatic pain, irritable skin conditions and for those of nervous disposition. It is a popular culinary herb, especially in Italy and France.

Actions Antidepressant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, cephalic, digestive, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, galactagogue, nervine, prophylactic, restorative, stimulant of adrenal cortex, stomachic, tonic.

Extraction Essential oil by steam distillation from the flowering herb.


Characteristics 'True' sweet basil oil is a colourless or pale yellow liquid with a light , fresh sweet-spicy scent and balsamic undertone. It blends well with bergamot, clary sage, lime, opopanax, oakmoss, citronella, geranium, hyssop and other 'green notes.

Principal Constituents Linalol (40-45 percent0, methyl chavicol (23.8 percent0 and a small amount of eugenol, limonene and citronellol among others.

Safety Data Relatively no-toxic, non irritant, possible sensitization in some individuals, Avoid during pregnancy.

Aromatherapy/Home Use

Skin care: Insect bites (mosquito, wasp), insect repellent.

Circulation muscles and joints: Gout, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism.

Respiratory system Bronchitis, coughs, earache, sinusitis.

Digestive system Dyspepsia, flatulence, nausea.

Genito-urinary system Cramps, scanty periods.

Immune system Colds, fever, 'flu, infectious disease.

Nervous system Anxiety depression, fatigue, insomnia, migraine, nervous tension: 'Oil of Basil is an excellent, indeed perhaps the best, aromatic nerve tonic. It clears the head, relieves intellectual fatigue, and gives the mind strength and clarity.'

Other uses The oil is used in soaps, cosmetics and perfumery; it is also used extensively in major food categories, especially savories.

Reference: The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: Julia Lawless

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